What is the first-time homebuyer credit?

1 min readLast updated November 10, 2023by Rachel Carey

The first-time homebuyer credit was first introduced during the 2008 financial crisis to make buying a property more affordable. This article looks at how this credit worked, what the new homebuyer credit could look like and what alternatives there are.

What is the first-time homebuyer credit? 

During the 2008 financial downturn, house prices fell by as much as 33 percent in some places, with 3.1 million people filing for foreclosure – one out of every 54 properties. With household incomes falling, fewer people could buy a property. All of which meant that the US property market was struggling to recover.   

Congress introduced first-time homebuyers credit to make it easier for people to buy homes. This credit was available to people looking to buy their first home and offered a tax credit worth up to $7,500 on the property's value. But, due to the cost of maintaining this credit, it was ended in 2010.  

In April 2021, a new credit named the First-Time Homebuyer Act of 2021 was introduced. If passed into law, this bill could offer a credit of up to $15,000 for those looking to buy their first home.  

Who qualifies as a first-time buyer? 

To qualify as a first-time homebuyer, you must not have owned a home or cosigned on a mortgage in the last three years. You will also need to fit the following criteria: 

  • If you’re a single parent who has co-owned a property with a former spouse while married. 

  • If you’re a displaced homemaker who has only owned a property with a spouse. 

  • If you have only owned a home fixed to a foundation. 

  • If you have only owned a home that isn’t compliant with local building codes, which cannot be brought into compliance for less than the cost of building a permanent structure. 

These criteria mean you could still be eligible for this credit even if you have owned a property.  

How do you receive first-time homebuyer tax credits? 

The First-Time Homebuyer Act of 2021 is still in the hands of legislators, so there is no way of receiving this credit for the moment.  

However, there are some easy steps you can take to prepare yourself for the process of applying for a mortgage.  

Otherwise, applying for a first-time mortgage means having enough savings to place a deposit and having a good enough credit score to secure a mortgage. If you haven’t already, see what you can do to increase your savings and see if your credit score is worthy enough to get the mortgage you want.  

What other tax credits are available to first-time homebuyers? 

The first-time homebuyer credits mentioned so far are two examples of credits you can use to buy a home for the first time. However, these are far from the only options open to you. Several tax credits and deductions you can use, both before and after buying a property, can make this process easier. Here are six options you should consider:  

1. Property tax deduction 

You can deduct up to $10,000 – or $5,000 if you are married but filing your taxes separately – from your property taxes. You may also be eligible for a deduction even if you don’t own the property. To be eligible, your property needs to be assessed at a similar value to other properties in your community, and the proceeds of your deduction need to go towards community improvements rather than benefits for yourself. You must itemize your tax deductions instead of taking the standard deduction to do this. You can file for your deduction using the Schedule A form.  

2. Mortgage interest deduction 

You can deduct the interest from a mortgage worth up to $750,000 from your taxes. Depending on when you took out your mortgage, you may even be able to deduct more. 

3. Mortgage Credit Certificates (MCCs) 

Some states offer an MCC, which allows you to claim a refund of up to $2,000 on your mortgage interest. Your mortgage lenders issue these credits and convert a portion of the interest you have paid into a tax credit.  

4. Local state assistance 

Individual states offer a range of different schemes that can help first-time buyers. You may be eligible for local grants, forgivable loans or down payment assistance, making affording a deposit even easier. This scheme can help cover between two and five percent of your down payment and is especially useful if you’re struggling to save enough money.  

To see which programs you may be eligible for, look at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s local homebuying database here.  

5. Borrow from an IRA account 

You can incur early withdrawal fees and penalties when you withdraw from your IRA account before the age of 59 1/2. However, qualifying first-time buyers can take up to $10,000 to buy or build a house penalty-free. However, you only have 120 days to use this money, so ensure you are well-prepared before withdrawing these funds. 

Remember that while there is no early withdrawal penalty, these funds can still be taxed at your marginal income rate, affecting your planning. Before using your retirement funds, speak to a financial advisor.  

6. Loan from an employer-sponsored plan 

If you have a retirement account sponsored by your employer, such as a 401(k), your employer can allow you to borrow some of these funds to buy a house. IRS guidelines mean you can borrow up to 50 percent of your vested account balance, which must be paid back within five years. However, you can repay it over a longer period if you use these funds to buy a residence.  

The bottom line 

A first-time homebuyer credit can make buying a home easier. But whether you aren’t eligible or looking for an alternative, there are many other ways to buy a home for the first time.  

If you aren’t sure which is the right option for you, speaking to an independent financial advisor can help. Find your next advisor on Unbiased.

Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.